Volume XXVIII, Issue 2, August-September 2010

Editorial: Young Changemakers

Savio Silveira

An organization that has greatly impressed me is Youth Ventures. What is amazing about this organization is that they pick up ordinary youth, largely from underprivileged communities, and transform them into highly committed leaders. And this is achieved, not by randomly flinging bits of pious advice at them, but rather, through a well designed year long process of training and mentoring. The youngsters who participate in this programme are enabled to launch their own Venture – a project that creates real social change. Youth Ventures believes that this changemaking experience is transformational, it leads to a fundamental shift in self-belief; the youngster who saw himself as just another ordinary person is now convinced that he can be a changemaker, a leader in society.

Take Ashok for example, who lives in one of Mumbai’s largest slums, Babasaheb Ambedkar Nagar Colony. He realized that many of his childhood friends had dropped out of school and taken to drugs and alcohol. Ashok was determined to ensure that younger boys would not be trapped in this same situation. Hence, he launched a Venture called Oscar, a football club for boys who had dropped out of school or were at risk of dropping out. Oscar provides these boys the opportunity to train, play, and compete with other local teams. However, to be a member of the club, each boy must attend Oscar’s informal classes twice a week, which help develop maths, Hindi, English, leadership, and life skills. Through this Venture, Ashok has got many dropouts to re-enrol in school and complete their education.

Then there is Priyanka, who was fed up with the garbage strewn all around her neighbourhood. She launched her Venture, Pradushan Mukti, to combat this menace. Her efforts to raise awareness on waste management have targeted every segment of the community. She educated school children, got them excited to become ambassadors of the environment, and used their artwork for poster campaigns. She mobilized these kids to take to the streets and march for awareness. Priyanka also motivated older community members to champion this cause. The Bombay Municipal Corporation took notice of her project and asked Priyanka to submit a proposal on how to create a clean community. Thanks to her efforts, the BMC has covered all open drains, increased the number of garbage collection points, and allocated funds to fight pollution in the community.

And not just city youth, even young people in the villages are enthusiastically participating in Youth Ventures. Ukesh launched Hamaro Adhikar to motivate people participate in the village Gram Sabha. He started by making the villagers aware of the importance of the Gram Sabha, highlighting its value and the need to be a part of it by conducting a play on Gram Sabha. In just a year, he and his team, through the Gram Sabha were able to provide electricity to a nearby village, help tribal farmers, get employment for people in the village and even get a school built in the village. Thanks to his work, the villagers have become aware of their rights and are now confident of approaching the administration on various issues. Looking back at the past year, Ukesh recalls his most memorable moment: ‘I had gone to the District Collector for the issue of forest land; I was leading twenty-five people. All of them were praising me and I felt proud to lead them’.

As the International Youth Year takes off and as we press ahead with our Youth Ministry, creating youth leaders, changemakers in society, should rank high on our agenda.

Salesian Youth Ministry: A Holistic Perspective

Glenn Lowe sdb

At the very outset, if you are in search of a proper definition of ‘Spirituality’, forget about it. Search engines on the internet will give you over five million hits to define ‘Spirituality’ and over eleven million entries for a ‘Definition of Spirituality’. I don’t intend to give you another one. Like each one’s fingerprints, each one does possess a unique ‘spirituality’ expressed and lived out in the daily bustle of life.

Pope John Paul II rightly acknowledged Don Bosco as a ‘Master of Youth Spirituality’. As Salesians journeying with the young, we cannot but be proponents of Salesian Youth Spirituality (SYS), a style of educative holiness which prompts every young person each day to grow in Christ, the perfect man, by developing his interior dynamic forces towards maturity of faith.

Salesian Youth Spirituality can best be understood in the following perspective: The adjective ‘Salesian’ distinguishes the project from other proposals offered within the Church. The adjective ‘youth’ underlines the fact that this proposal refers to young people and has the characteristics of youthfulness even when it is lived out by adults, as is the case for the Salesians and the Sisters. The noun ‘spirituality’ attempts to reclaim a serious and challenging commitment based on the tradition of discipleship. Finally we are saying that we want the ‘Salesian’ and ‘youth’ aspects of our spirituality to encourage us to live that gospel radicality that has been the mark of so many Christians before us (RM, AGC 334).

Looking at the present scenario we live in, with the whole focus on ‘Holistic Growth’ and the body-mind-heart-soul paradigm, I would like to focus on the Nazareth Home, the Valdocco Experience, the UN programme for Education in the twenty first century and the four needs of people as proposed as Steve Covey and fit the entire growth process within the Preventive System.

1. The Nazareth Home: (Lk 2: 52)

Jesus is lost, found and then taken home. In one line, Luke explains Jesus’ Nazareth experience for the next eighteen years: He increased in stature (Physical Quotient – P.Q.), wisdom (Intelligence Quotient – I.Q.), favour with God (Spiritual Quotient – S.Q.) and favour with people (Emotional Quotient – E.Q.). Spirituality is about this ‘increase’ in the four dimensions of life: the Body-Mind-Heart-Soul). Salesian Youth Ministry ought to be a reliving of this Nazareth experience where the young people are invited to experience this ‘increase’. There is no spirituality without this total increase.

2. The Valdocco Experience: (Salesian Constitution 40)

In the Salesian Constitution, Article 40 we read: Every Salesian Institution must be a Home that welcomes, a School that educates, a Church that evangelizes and a Playground where friends can meet. Don Bosco, the master of youth spirituality, uses the four metaphors ‘home’, ‘school’, church’ and ‘playground’ that are to be the paradigms for this holistic growth. In today’s world, Home is anywhere where one belongs, School is about building minds with vision, Church is about creating a soul space that bring meaning to life, and the Heart is about living the quality of love expressed in relationships.

3. The United Nations: Learning: the Treasure Within

The report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century was presented in 1996. Simply speaking, the Commission felt that education throughout life is based upon four pillars: learning to do, learning to know, learning to live together and learning to be.

Viewing Education in a broader perspective, the UN chose to focus on holistic formation once again. Learning to do (Physical Dimension), Learning to Know (Intellectual Dimension), Learning to Live together (Social Dimension) and Learning to Be (Spiritual Dimension). Learning is no longer viewed as just a function of the brain. Learning must be a ‘Body-Mind-Heart-Soul’ connection.

4. Steve Covey: The Four Basic Needs of Every Person

For too long, humanity considered food, clothing and shelter as the basic needs of every person. Steve Covey, in Seven Habits of Effective People, rightly proposed the ‘4 Ls’ as the basic needs of every person. These four needs are: to Live, to Learn, to Love and to Leave a Legacy. Effectiveness is seen in the fulfillment of these needs.

The need to Live (the Physical Dimension), the need to Learn (Intellectual Dimension), the need to Love (Social Dimension) and the Need to leave behind a Legacy (Spiritual Dimension) are basic and the quality of one’s life is directly proportional to the fulfillment of these needs.

5. The Preventive System:

Pope John Paul II in his letter to the Salesians for the 1988 Centenary wrote: ‘The originality and boldness of the plan for a “youthful holiness” is intrinsic to the educational art of this great Saint, who can be rightly called the “master of youth spirituality” ’. John Paul II reminded us again in his mess­age to the GC23: ‘an aspect that calls for your care­ful study is “youth spirituality”... it is not sufficient to rely on the simple rationality of a human eth­ic...We must stir up deep personal convictions which will lead to a life commitment inspired by the perennial values of the Gospel’.

When we look at holistic formation in the environment of the Nazareth Home, the Valdocco Experience, Education in the twenty-first Century, and in the needs of an Effective Person we see a very close link between all the four dimensions. To increase in only one dimension at the cost of the other three is no growth at all. Salesian Youth Spirituality is about nourishing all these four dimensions: the Physical, the Intellectual, the Spiritual and the Social.

In all this, where does the Preventive System come in? Don Bosco’s educative system is holistic to the core. The Preventive System stands on four pillars: Presence (Home: physical dimension), Reason (School: Intellectual dimension), Religion (Church: Spiritual dimension) and Loving Kindness (Heart: Social Dimension).

To enable our youth to mature into God-fearing people and responsible citizens, we cannot but propose our Salesian Youth Spirituality.

More than Just Football: Infusing Salesian Youth Spirituality through Youth Group Ministry

Ajoy Fernandes sdb

The Spiritual Tradition of Don Bosco and Salesian Youth Spirituality

Don Bosco has bequeathed to us a simple, but rich spiritual heritage. The spiritual tradition he has passed on has become a way of life for many Salesians and young people who have passed out through the portals of Salesian institutions.

· Through moments of prayer as well as youth ministry, Don Bosco constantly maintained a close union with God.

· By patiently pursuing his apostolic goals amidst trials and obstacles, he showed us how we could ‘carry our daily crosses’ and live life with determination, joy and optimism.

· He insisted that his students do their daily duties in an extraordinary way.

· All his efforts were geared towards making his boys honest citizens and good Christians.

Youth from all over the Salesian world gathered together in Rome in the year 2000. Drawing inspiration from Don Bosco and the spiritual tradition they saw lived out in different Salesian institutions, they crystallized Salesian Youth Spirituality into seven propositions. Three of these elements have a self-reference; three have an ‘other-directed’ orientation; and one is centered on God.

Self

1. Celebrate life in happiness (Joy and Optimism)

2. Fulfill daily duties well

3. Accept the Cross (A ‘death’ that leads to Life)

Others

4. Live out one’s vocation and mission in life

5. Participate in the life of the Church

6. Participate in Social and Political activity

God

7. Live constantly united with God

Salesian Institutions: School, Home, Church and Playground

Don Bosco wanted every Salesian institution to be a School, Home, Church and Playground. These are symbolic terms that go far beyond the institutions they literally represent. These four aspects facilitate holistic human growth as they represent the development of the Intellect (Intelligence Quotient), Heart and Emotions (Emotional/Relational Quotient), Spirit (Spiritual Quotient – S.Q.) and Body (Physical Quotient – P.Q.). The seven elements of Salesian Youth Spirituality (SYS) either encompass, or permeate these four dimensions.

Living out Salesian Youth Spirituality through Groups

Youth spontaneously team up with their peers. In addition, most institutions accomplish their goals and tasks through group activity. Groups dedicated to liturgical animation, sports, music, intellectual, cultural, or social activity are part and parcel of any Salesian institution. These groups provide an excellent opportunity to live out as well as pass on the Salesian Youth Spirituality. The SYS could sometimes be passed on through explicit instruction. However, SYS is most effectively communicated, when it is lived out in concrete ways through the life of different groups. I have had an opportunity to pass on the SYS to a group of band players. However, I will illustrate how elements of SYS can be passed on through a group as seemingly ‘mundane’ as a football team when we look at youth ministry through the lens of the four dimensions: School, Home, Church and Playground.

Salesian Youth Spirituality: A Football Team Format

School

Schooling in its broadest sense has to do with orienting, shaping or training the mind. Thus, much schooling can be done even within the context of a sports group. This can happen on the playground where education focuses on learning the rules, skills and sense of the game. All this calls for intelligence and focus, and discipline demanded by steady and regular practice. When all these are pursued with diligence, they help concretely live out one element of SYS—‘doing one’s daily duties well’.

When in a spirit of true sportsmanship players are taught to respect their fellow-players as well as opponents; to maintain their position on the field; and to play by the rules of the game, they are schooled in a vital lesson in life: indulging in fair-play and respecting others’ boundaries. This is a way of evangelizing on the playground. Remotely, it paves the way for making persons respectful and honest citizens.

Persisting through regular exercise and practice schedules makes demands on one’s commitment; and may be physically tiring and painful. However, painful drilling helps develop stamina and skills that enable players to handle a game with ease. Amidst it all, when players concretely experience the progress they have made, they come to realize that their painstaking efforts help them develop into skillful sportspersons. Implicitly, they learn a bigger lesson in life — that carrying one’s daily ‘cross’ inevitably leads to small ‘resurrections’—expressions of a more abundant ‘life’.

Teams do not always win. Amidst losses, when players continue to give of their best while orienting themselves towards victory, they adopt a mental stance that helps develop a healthy optimism.

Young players often aspire to become like the football ‘stars’ they admire. Talking about football as a professional choice opens up an avenue for getting young persons to reflect on their place and calling in life.

Thus, schooling on the playground focuses on learning the skills, sense, and rules of the game; developing discipline through consistent and regular practice; imbibing the true spirit of sportsmanship; optimistically pursuing victory while struggling with losses; and discerning one’s calling in life. Implicitly it helps players imbibe vital elements of SYS such as respecting other persons, doing daily duties well, carrying one’s daily cross, and living life optimistically.

Home

‘Home’ is a symbol for the relational or interpersonal dimension of one’s personality. Many interpersonal lessons are learned on the playground.

When students learn to respect the positions of others on the playground, and learn to play as a team, they live out a vital exercise in cooperation. Cooperation and understanding on the playground is then easily transferred to real-life situations.

· When a team follows the directives of their coach, they learn to open themselves to the guidance of more experienced individuals. Implicitly, they are schooled in a healthy respect for authority.

· When the more-talented players help and support the less-talented players, they develop a healthy sense of concern, and hone their nurturing skills.

· Players who learn to care for and maintain their grounds, develop a sense of healthy belonging and responsibility, and implicitly learn to care for their environment.

· While teams aim to win a game, success may not always come their way. Training children to rejoice in success without growing arrogant and to handle failure without breaking down is an important lesson for life. A sense of group responsibility and support can contribute towards this end. Implicitly, children learn to rejoice with each other amidst success, and to support one another in moments of failure and difficulty in real life situations.

· Many outstanding players have been known to reach out to the needy through some form of social activity. In doing so, they extend the bounds of their home beyond the playground. Players of a team can express this in various ways such as playing for a cause, coaching other children in their school or neighborhood, or refereeing at a class or school tournament. These little exercises help them develop a healthy sense of altruism and service. They implicitly learn to be contributing citizens of the world.

Through these little lessons in life, children learn to live meaningful and emotionally healthy lives. Implicitly, they are schooled in the art of participating in Church, humanitarian, social, and political activity—expressions of the spirit of a ‘Home’. This helps concretely pass on another element of SYS.

Church

‘Church’ symbolically stands for the Spiritual Quotient that a person needs to develop. Martial Arts training in the East was often part of a spiritual quest. Trainees were taught to draw energy from a source beyond themselves. Martial Arts training was sometimes used as a means to dissolve the Ego and to attain enlightenment. Beginning a game with a prayer is a way of teaching players to draw strength from a source beyond themselves. Ending a game with a prayer of thanksgiving is a way of acknowledging that all that one learned during the practice session was a gift from God. Offering up one’s play to God as an expression of devotion helps develop continuous union with God. It is now an established fact that prayer helps better the quality of life. Within a prayerful context, the playground becomes a ‘sacred sanctuary’. This is easily noticed when players are engrossed in their game, where the ego is set aside, and the pursuit of victory takes a second place to selfless immersion in the game.

Playground

Players at a game develop physical strength and stamina. A well-oxygenated body makes for greater mental and emotional calm and focus in all aspects of life.

The playground is a place of play. When players manage to get beyond learning techniques to indulging in free play and expression, they are able to play creatively and with deep delight.

The attitudes developed through the three dimensions of School, Home and Church get deeply embedded not just in one’s mind, heart, and soul. They also get ‘stored’ in the body, making for calmness and serenity in life.

Conclusion

Lessons learned theoretically run the risk of becoming an ideology. An ideology that is proclaimed may not always be lived. Spirituality on the other hand is a way of life. Life is deeply interrelated; it does not consist of watertight compartments. The spirituality that is implicitly imbibed and learned experientially through a sports group will overflow to other aspects of the person’s life as well. When a group dedicated to sports learns much more than kicking a football, the playground becomes a school of life, a home, and a sacred sanctuary.

Groups can be of varied types: altar servers’ groups, a band, a choir; a recreational, theatre, study or social group. Group experience offers many opportunities for passing on the SYS. This article was intended to provide a starting point and an inspiration towards this end. Once an educator understands and imbibes the principles of SYS, he or she can pass it on through youth group ministry in inspired and creative ways.

Youth Ministers: Challenges, Opportunities and Difficulties

Cleophas Braganza sdb

Don Bosco’s pastoral zeal was mainly directed toward migrant youth, who were easy targets of exploitation and abuse in the big cities during Italy's industrial revolution. In most developing countries, migration from villages to metropolises still continues. The new-found prosperity in the economy and industry lures many young men and women to the cities, where they seek a better future. They plunge into an ambience of frantic haste, pressure to perform and exacting standards which promises quick gains, recognition and a rise in social status.

However economic prosperity brings with it a host of problems for young people. As they grow up, they sometimes lack the presence, care and affection of their parents who are busy trying to provide for them. Frustration in a parent's career has negative repercussions for the other members of the family. Some of these youngsters end up as failures themselves—school drop-outs who easily become antisocial elements, addicts, get involved in illegal activities or run away from home to earn their living. On the other hand, even those who succeed academically, find themselves at great risk, because they have to remain away from home for extended periods for study or for work. Since they have easy access to money and other resources, they tend to experiment (without responsibility or commitments) with substances, relationships and their own lives. They might achieve financial stability, but end up morally disoriented, searching for meaning in life. All these are young people in need of a caring heart, a listening ear and a guiding hand.

The Salesian, like Don Bosco, draws inspiration from Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who leaves the 99 sheep in the fold to seek the stray one (cf. Jn 10). He seeks, through his pastoral ministry, to lead the young person to a personal experience of God’s love, which alone can be the foundation of a holistically mature personality. This is possible when he appropriates the attitudes of Jesus towards those in need: a compassionate non-judgemental attitude, listening to and trying to understand the experiences of the young in need, together with constant availability and willingness to accompany them even at the cost of personal sacrifice.

In today’s world, parents and educators find it difficult to make demands on those in their care, because they feel that they might become unpopular or that their relationship might be strained. The story of the young man who comes to Jesus asking what he should do to gain eternal life (cf. Mt 19:16-22) sheds light on what an educator ought to do. Jesus, on hearing that the young man is already observing the Law, makes a further demand: ‘Go, sell your possessions and then come, follow me!’ The young man is sadly unwilling to do so, but Jesus does not water down the criteria for attaining perfection. Educators need to realize that throwing challenges to the young is essential to help them achieve all-round maturity. Some particular areas in which the young need to be challenged in order to facilitate their growth are:

—The building and maintaining of healthy interpersonal relationships
—Learning to appreciate the diversity and richness of God's gifts to them, and becoming generous enough to share them with others
—Being courageous enough to risk making commitments of increasing duration and seriousness in life.

The desire to succeed at all costs, to create a reputation for oneself is one that could tempt not just the youth, but even those who engage in youth ministry. There is a danger of ‘hijacking’ the pastoral agenda by replacing it with our own, of proclaiming not Christ, but ourselves! Jesus sent out disciples ahead of him and gave them instructions on how they were to proceed (cf. Lk 10:1-16). The apostle is ‘the one sent’ on a mission, not his own, but that of ‘the one who sends’ him. This awareness serves a double purpose: in good times, recalling that it is the Lord who uses him as an instrument to carry out his mission effectively; and in moments of difficulty, not giving in to discouragement or despair, knowing that the Lord supports and accompanies him.

Another element that can diminish the effectiveness of youth ministry is the apparent lack of common purpose among those who should work together. Already in the early Church, Paul reminded the Corinthians that they shouldn’t be attached exclusively either to Apollos or to himself, since both are servants of the same Master (cf. 1Cor 3:4-11,21-23). This admonition can very well be applied to the Church, to the congregation or to the local community. Many are the instances when painstaking individual efforts go in vain due to lack of proper planning or collaboration or continuity; and the youth are the worse off for it. On the other hand, the ministry produces results surpassing our expectations when a common programme of goals, methods and strategies is drawn up, and when there is collaboration in its execution.

There is need of working in synergy, both within the ecclesial framework as well as with others who share the same ideals and goals. While the congregation defines the general outlines and the framework for youth ministry, it is the prerogative of the province and the local communities to define the concrete areas of work and the plans for particular initiatives. If the communities and the individuals responsible for youth ministry are not taken into confidence during this process, or they themselves choose to ignore what has been decided together, then as a consequence there is a colossal waste of time, energy, personnel and resources. This occurs due to either a competitive duplication of initiatives, or a dispersion of efforts by different individuals or groups working at cross purposes.

‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few’ (Lk 10:2). Those of us who engage in youth ministry need to become increasingly aware of the wide range of needs that the youth present today, while not forgetting that we are servants sent by the Master to tend to His harvest. In order to lead the youth in our care to greater maturity we need to offer them challenges to which they can respond with generosity and creativity. Since ‘the labourers are few’, we need to optimize the use of our time and other resources through careful planning and through working in synergy for the greater glory of God and the salvation of youth.

Our Rural Trailblazer

Chris Valentino sdb

After having worked for twenty-four years in Ahmednagar, Br. Alex Gonsalves has moved on to a new assignment. During these long years, he founded Bosco Gramin Vikas Kendra and undertook Watershed Development in over twenty villages. We thought it fitting to do an article on this man who can definitely be called the pioneer of rural development work in the Mumbai Province. ~Editor

In these days of furious frenzy over ‘saving our planet’, ‘keeping track of the deteriorating ozone layer’, ‘rapid climate change’ and ‘going green’, it has become fashionable for us to mouth relevant quotes on making an impact for the preservation of our ecological systems. As we continue to live and move and have our being here in this ever-changing climatic scenario, it is a fad to state that in some way (however small it may be), we are trying to make a difference in our lifestyle and contribute to a greener planet. Now, why anyone would think of this half a century ago is a question that doesn’t occur to us. In fact, some of us who’ve grown through this half a century perhaps believe that this pattern of thinking couldn’t or needn’t have originated twenty five years ago because everything was as it should have been, at least on the ecological front. How wrong we were and how very incorrect we still are!

Besides those who were busy making careers, trying their luck at something futuristic, or even those who had ventured into the just emerging computer arena, there were others —Salesians—trying to make a niche in the youth scene with playground activities or camps and other events. For those of us who were serious about social work, our focus was on street work, slum development and evening classes. It somehow never occurred to most of us (I wonder whether it still does) that youth work could also mean community development, rural development or even plain ecological consideration.

In the field of rural development, community development and rural social programmes, there is one name that shines bright from among a galaxy of Salesian stars in the Mumbai province. Yes, it is the name of the man we have come to recognize as Br. Alex Gonsalves. This is a name which has been hailed and lauded at the local, national and international platforms but sadly downplayed within our family. Is it a case of ‘a prophet is never recognized in his own country?’ Perhaps. Perhaps not. Yet it is difficult to speak of the involvement of the Salesians of Don Bosco in rural community development without the explicit mention of Br. Alex Gonsalves. What moved the man to do what he ventured to do with little support from those at the helm or very little acceptance of his work? What goaded him on, kept him going and still spurs him on to this different mission? It is best to get some quips from the man himself. This article is precisely a journey down memory lane, beyond the surface into the nooks and crannies, peeping behind stony rocks and emerging into the streams of the gushing life-force that is Br. Alex.

When you meet the man the first thing that strikes you is his ability to smile. The other evident characteristic is his soft-spoken nature—no intimidation, no snobbishness, and no airs. This is really admirable in someone who has won local, national and global recognition. Br. Alex has been the motivating and driving force behind a series of initiatives, schemes and community development programmes not only in those areas of Ahmednagar District where the Salesians function, but also in areas beyond the geographical boundaries of his work. Under the creative management of Br. Alex, Bosco Gramin Vikas Kendra (BGVK) has been the recipient of notable awards. These include the General Championship Award for rearing the Best Female Goat of Barberi variety at Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth, Rahuri, Ahmednagar in the State level Goat Exhibition cum Competition; the Vanashree Puraskar from the Chief Minister of Maharashtra in 2000; Dr. Cardinal Simon Pimenta Worker Award; the Gram Vikas Bhushan awarded by the Bigar-Sheti Nagari Sahakari Patsantha, Ahmednagar; and the prestigious National Ecology Award (Indira Priyadarshini Vruksha Mitra Award) in the year 2005.

Speaking about his many interventions for and with the people of 22 villages and more than 72 Self Help Groups (SHGs), Br Alex says that his MSW degree did not prepare him for this work. How then did he implement numerous self-employment schemes for individual farmers, Integrated Watershed Development Programmes, cattle rearing, poultry farming, adult literacy programmes and pioneer a Rural Development Centre that specializes in Integrated Watershed Projects and Training for Skills in Village Sustainability? With simplicity that oozes from within, he says ‘I did not achieve this merely by studying the MSW degree. My initial experience at the farmland in Sulcorna (South Goa), my consistent background reading of managerial and other leadership/motivational literature coupled with the knowledge acquired in my childhood as a young boy playing and working in the fields has proved very helpful in this regard’.

He further goes on to state, ‘My only concern all along has been to help the poor farmers capitalize on the readily available resources at hand, namely, land and labour. Right from 1986 till date, that alone has been my endeavour. Hence I have not achieved this simply by studying in a classroom setting, but I have had first-hand experience in the farm, have faced water-shortages, have struggled with finances and have asked myself “what is the way out?” ’ In seeking and initiating solutions, Br. Alex has managed—despite the odds stacked against him—to set up BGVK, a massive undertaking that affects society constructively. BGVK’s work area now covers 22 villages, 26,000 hectares of land, 24 crores of additional income generated, and over 72,000 direct beneficiaries.

When quizzed about the general reaction from confreres, Br Alex smiles and says, ‘There have been many who have stood by me, there have been many who never understood and who still don’t understand this as being appropriate Salesian work and there have been still others who have largely remained indifferent’. On being prodded a bit further, he confides, ‘When I began, I was told to find my own resources and fund the entire project expecting no financial help, and I did just that. But later, I felt that this is not my work; it is the work of everyone, of us all and so now I am happy in my present state. Perhaps it is now time for me to relax a bit and look at other pastures’.

Br. Alex categorically states that it was his primary aim to prevent soil erosion, increase the irrigated area and agricultural production. ‘That is precisely why we did tree plantation, afforestation works, horticultural plantation, farm bunding, constructed nallah bunds and check dams, ventured into money-saving, banking, income-generation, poultry projects, goat rearing, and making of household products’, he adds. Beginning with scepticism, indifference and reluctant support in the semi-arid, parched village of Dongargan, and gradually progressing with hope, prayer and greater participation to the villages of Bhoire-Pather, Ratadgaon, Agadgaon, Ranjani, Mathani, Ghat-Deolgaon, Pimpalgaon-Ujjaini, Kaudgaon, Khandke-Deogaon, Sasewadi, Sonewadi, Prewadi, Kolhewdi, many rural households have benefitted tremendously.

The local impact was such that BGVK and its principal mover garnered sufficient mileage to be approached by agencies and other groups for training, lead management and coordination of similar enterprises. The successful organization and coordination of the Maharashtra Social Forum was a golden feather in his cap, which further enhanced the status of BGVK as a formidable stakeholder in rural social transformation. The man who dreamed and spearheaded the organization is mighty pleased with the laurels he and his collaborators have rightfully earned. But the success story neither terminates nor restrains his enthusiasm and zest. Br. Alex says ‘I never worked for recognition. I knew that God wanted me to do something different. One needs to continue doing one’s work selflessly in a spirit of genuine service to the community and the results are bound to follow’.

As a parting shot, Br Alex says, ‘Many young Salesians are now seriously interested in this type of apostolate, but they focus either on the social aspect or on the aspect of economic viability. Both need to be stressed, since that is what this type of participatory community development entails’. The smile lingers; a Salesian who knows what he has endured and what he has achieved. Surely the amchi mathi, amchi maansa apostolate is a landmark watershed in the historical evolution of Salesian intervention for a better society.

Editorial: From Grey to Green

Savio Silveira

The discussion was on garbage bins.

The pleasant spring weather in Rome, complemented by a generous serving of good Toscana wine, had led us into a passionate discussion.

‘Just think of the number of garbage bins you see all over the place here’ pointed out Peter Gonsalves, ‘and compare it, for example, with our own school campuses back in the province. It’s quite a task just locating a bin!’

My mind travelled back to our school campuses, and in particular, to the recess scene. Hundreds of kids, hungrily gorging themselves on chips and biscuits and what have you, and then blissfully flinging the empty packets around. And after the bell has summoned these litter-vending machines back to their books, out comes a battalion of peons, armed with an assortment of clean-up gear... and launch a surgical attach on the grisly garbage. VoilĂ , says the school management, behold our immaculate campus!

Bah!

So what are we teaching our students? That they can litter the world as they brashly cruise along and that someone else will come by to clean up their mess? Is this the education we are so proud of? It certainly is time that we begin straightening out our skewed up systems. And for a start, let us ensure that the children are not allowed to enter the classroom until they have personally picked up every bit of litter and carefully consigned it to the bin.

And talking about bins, it is high time we introduced colour-coded bins in our campuses to educate the children on segregation of garbage. Across the world, colour coding of litter bins has been in vogue for years—white for paper, blue for plastic, green for organic matter. Segregating garbage is the first, and easily one of the biggest steps in efficient waste management. We don’t need sophisticated technology to resolve our garbage woes; all we need is simple common sense and discipline.

But relegating garbage to its appropriate bin is not the end of the story. If anything, it is the beginning of a new chapter, especially for the garbage. The big words today in environmental care are ‘Recycle’ and ‘Reuse’. While recycling the Blue bin may need professional help, the Green and White bins can easily be managed by the students. The organic waste can be converted into compost which can then be used in the school gardens. The waste paper can be fashioned into a huge range of products. If these recycling processes appear bewildering, don’t panic: many pages of know-how on garbage recycling are available on the internet. And if further assistance is needed, there are many organizations that would willingly come to the school and train the students in these processes.

And what the children learn at school is not meant to remain confined to the school. Once they have perfected the art of garbage management, recycling and reuse, they can introduce the same in their housing colonies and neighbourhoods.

Insignificant as they may seem, the garbage bins hold the solution to many of our environmental concerns. And so, with the new academic year already here, it’s time we get working on the bins. That will definitely be huge step forward on the road from grey to green.

Green Resolutions for the New Year


Michael Fernandes sdb

As Indians, we have a sense of the sacred, a sense of wonder and awe. An openness and surrender before the mystery of creation is a prominent feature of our culture. Reverence for nature is a sacred tradition that has been handed down from generation to generation. Unfortunately, the times seem to be changing. We no longer look at the earth with respect; rather, we look at it as yet another commodity to be exploited. This indiscriminate and senseless exploitation of the earth is endangering our very existence and yet we seem oblivious of this alarming fact. As educators, it is our responsibility to turn the tide and restore our respect for nature. At the start of this new academic year, I would like to propose a few practical ways in which we as individuals and institutions can care for the earth in our own settings.

  1. We can make ecology and eco-spirituality a component of our formation programmes.
  2. Make use of IGNOU correspondence diploma courses on environmental sciences.
  3. Study government policies on SEZs (Special Economic Zones) and be vigilant about industrial development plans that may impoverish the earth.
  4. Promote the use of alternative energy sources such as solar and wind energy.
  5. Include ecology and ecological concerns in our budgetary preferences.
  6. Participate in movements to safeguard creation and to fight against environmental pollution.
  7. Develop herbal gardens.
  8. Ensure green cover over at least 30 % of our lands.
  9. Use CFL lamps or LED lights as much as possible.
  10. Avoid the use of plastic bags, cups, wrappers, etc.
  11. Introduce and install solar heaters, lights and cookers.
  12. Display posters on roads and in institutions for building ecological awareness.
  13. Develop organic vegetable gardens and get students involved.
  14. Provide environmental thoughts for the day on our notice boards.
  15. Organize special eco-liturgies and prayers.
  16. Form eco-cells in our schools and parishes.
  17. Use nature-friendly decorations.
  18. Name plants and trees to promote nature education.
  19. Harvest rain water effectively.
  20. Set up an ecological park in the province: Karjat could be a good possibility.
  21. Maintain gardens in each house in the province and set up greenhouses wherever possible.
  22. Cultivate plants that are beneficial for health, such as tulsi, neem, drumstick, curry patta, karela, pumpkin, etc.
  23. Participate in the annual celebration of World Environment Day on 5th June.
  24. Cultivate vermiculture pits in our campuses and avoid the burning of wastes.
  25. Give saplings instead of garlands to chief guests and dignitaries.

God has created the earth and entrusted it to us, to tend and care for it (Gen 2:15). At the start of this new academic year, let us resolve to take great care of this fragile gift that God has placed in our hands. Protecting nature, sustaining its beauty and respecting its biodiversity are values that must find a prominent place in our educational enterprise.

‘Respect Me!’: Our Surroundings Cry Out


Isaac Arackaparambil sdb

As a little boy in the seventh standard, I was greatly interested in beautifying the wasteland in front of my house. So I would spend my free time digging, weeding, and levelling the rough and rat-holed terrain of the plot close to my home. It looked very repulsive with weeds and shrubs growing wild, and it had an arrogance that defied my instinct to act. ‘I’ll make a garden’, I thought to myself, and behold, there was me breathing a happy sigh at the splendid transformation of an uninviting jungle to a welcoming flower bed. While I was tending that home-grown beauty, my elation was interrupted one morning by a parcel of garbage that landed right on my head, courtesy a neighbour who lived three floors above. Reflecting on that episode, I say to myself today that my neighbour’s thoughtlessness was not an assault on me but an act of grave disrespect to the very surroundings that enveloped her existence.

Travelling by bus one day, I saw a young mother attending to her two kids, a boy and a little girl. Having bought them some tea she stepped off the bus to get them some wafers. On her return, the little children had finished drinking their tea, and the boy asked her, ‘Mum, what should I do with this empty cup?’ It was a disposable plastic cup, and bang came a spontaneous answer from the educated mother, ‘Throw it out of the window!’ I looked on aghast at her thoughtlessness.

A few years ago as I was being treated to an ice-cream by a friend, I was looking around for a garbage-bin to dispose the paper cover of the ice-cream cone. Finding none, I asked the shop keeper if there was a dustbin around. His answer horrified me. He said in Gujarati: Aare kaie pan nakidejo ne. Akha Bharat kachra peti che!—meaning, ‘Throw it anywhere! The whole of India is a garbage bin’.

Call it callousness, call it insensitivity, call it thoughtlessness; the fact is that even the vast majority of our educated citizens in India today don’t consider environmental cleanliness a virtue. Besides, considering the fact that defecating, urinating, spitting and snorting in the open are acceptable, and that the railway authorities are satisfied with merely providing private space for nature’s call, unconcerned that their toilet outlets open towards the tracks, we have a structural snag when it comes to cleanliness issues.

Nevertheless, there is no use blaming structures until each individual takes personal responsibility for ensuring a clean and green India. The issue is not one of beautifying our earth for beauty’s sake, but one of restoring to her the dignity which God vested in her at creation. Once that dignity is restored as a proactive choice by each one of us, nature will reciprocate and return that respect by ensuring that we live healthy and free of diseases caused by our own gross neglect.

As educationists we have a wonderful opportunity to create a mindset or a spirituality of eco-cleanliness. I would like to propose a few ways in which we could create this mindset and introduce our students to such spirituality.

1. Why not have a different kind of school picnic—a passenger train picnic? Let’s take our students on a train journey by day. Any destination will do, provided we have a whole day at our disposal. What’s important is not the destination; what’s key is the journey itself. And what do we do on this journey? We and our students in uniform become salespersons for environmental cleanliness. Create a factual and attractive script on the theme, make enacted presentations, picture presentations, presentations of scientific and statistical facts on the ills of uncleanliness, presentations on alternatives to the culture of thoughtlessness—approach the theme from all angles and make it as exhaustive and convincing as possible.

Have the students go from compartment to compartment with paper bags, asking passengers to dump their organic and inorganic waste in those bags. At the end of the day, have them give the waste products to recycling agencies or even to our eco-house at Karjat. This would be a good follow up to the noble investment in this hard and humiliating work. Students would see firsthand the wonders of recycled processing. Besides, they would pick up values of cleanliness, responsibility, humility and purposeful action. An indispensable preceding activity to the entire train picnic project is a training programme on eco-cleanliness which could be taken up as a value-education project for the year. Of course we need to ensure the necessary permissions from civic authorities, rope in the media, get the consent of parents et al.

2. Why not accompany certificates and medals at sports day presentations with saplings to the winners? Every sapling, if tended and allowed to grow, adds to the density of oxygen cover in the environment.

3. Why not encourage students to gift saplings to their friends on birthdays instead of buying expensive gifts?

4. Return to cycling or walking—especially when travelling to nearby places—instead of using vehicles, thus reducing carbon emissions.

5. Motivate students from the same localities to form eco-clean up teams and brain-storm how they could influence the cleanliness of their respective areas. They could be trained to set up recycling plants for organic and inorganic waste materials collected from their neighbours.

6. Expose students to NGOs already professional in the field of ecological conservation so as to enthuse them in creating an eco-preserving mindset.

7. Teach them to write letters to civic authorities and exercise their pro-active energies especially in the face of slackness on the part of municipalities with regard to basic hygiene.

8. Encourage them to make a personal commitment to carrying a friendly bag / pouch to dispose off their own sweet or wafer wrappers, instead of littering the surroundings.

9. Train students to conduct eco-cleanliness workshops for people living in slums and get the civic authorities to act in that direction.

10. Make your school the leaven of transformation by being concerned about ecological issues within a suitably demarcated radius. This could involve establishing an eco-club, making an ecological survey, discerning need-based interventions, and generating the civic will to execute these relevant interventions.

The task is daunting, but it is also compelling given the gravity of ecological abuse and thoughtlessness among the educated masses. We need to partner with willing organizations and those already in the know and, if need be, engineer research opportunities by creating a vision for ecological cleanliness and conservation. If we are ready to work beyond the parameters of the stipulated syllabus by allowing tuition classes to do our job, we can boldly spend time on issues that matter for an ownership of character and a celebration of healthy human existence. Tuition classes are here to stay. Our teachers need to be trained in alternative syllabi. We as educationists and institutions have to reinvent ourselves. Are we ready?

A Green Prayer: Contemplating the ‘Ecological Mysteries’


Glenford Lowe sdb

The ‘Ecological Mystery’ begins with the breath of God blowing over every void and chaos. Life begins with a sacred breath. Darkness is scattered and light pervades. Creation is more than just an ‘intelligent design’ or the faulty miscalculations of a DNA stand. Life is the greatest of all mysteries and to really understand it, we would first have to love life and the giver of all life!

God is madly in love with the world. The sacred scripture wraps it all up in the profound statement found in Jn 3:16, ‘God so loved the world’. Loving his handiwork that he found very good, God entrusted it to us lesser mortals. He gave us ‘power over the work of his hands’. It is only deep love that allows one to surrender power to one’s subordinates.

Power, if not handled with care, can often enslave, destroy and dominate. Misdirected power cannot love. Misdirected power breeds on greed and de-creates. Misdirected power only leads to more void and chaos…an ‘ecological disaster’ waiting to happen. Power, if not channeled properly, becomes in fact, powerless. The really powerful are the ones who can love and breathe life. Humanity can only become powerful again if we too, as one, can ‘so love the world’. The ‘ecological mystery’ is a deeply divine-human adventure. God and humanity must come together to ‘so love the world’. Grace and human responsibility need to interplay once again to ‘renew the face of the earth’.

Prayer can be a good place to start this renewal. Prayer doesn’t change things; prayer changes people, and people change things. To re-new the world we need this interplay of touching heaven and transforming earth. While we struggle through warmer days and colder nights, drier summers and melting snowcaps, devastating cyclones and shattering quakes, erupting volcanoes and fast depleting springs, extinct flora and fauna and the doom of a world that will fast end…we make a ‘green prayer’.

Yesterday, while sliding my fingers over the rosary beads and with raindrops gently falling, it dawned on me that I could make a ‘green prayer’, a new green rosary that invites me to contemplate the ‘ecological mysteries’ of a God so loving the world and inviting me to responsibly love it in return...

First Ecological Mystery: Contemplate on ‘God CREATING the world and finding it GOOD’ (Gen 1–2:4)

Second Ecological Mystery: God LOVING the World so much, He gifts His son Jesus’ (Jn 3:16)

Third Ecological Mystery: God CALMING the World with His Word (Lk 8: 22–25)

Fourth Ecological Mystery: God PROVIDING for the World, we need have no worry (Lk 12: 22–33)

Fifth Ecological Mystery: God ABIDING in the World with us always (Mt 28: 18–20)

Join hands with me to contemplate this ‘green prayer’. Green prayers make green fingers and many ‘green fingers’ can turn everything ‘grey to green’. Go Green in prayer: it makes you powerful; it will make you responsibly love again ‘the world so much’.

Volume XXVII, Issue 6, April-May 2010

Editorial: On Hobbies and Holidays

Savio Silveira

‘So, what are your hobbies?’ she asked me.

I was travelling with a visiting donor, and in between discussing Europe’s changing policies on development aid and India’s declining position on the human development index, she posed an occasional unrelated question.

Hobbies? Yes, I had almost forgotten that normal people dedicate some of their time to creative and relaxing activities that help maintain the serenity and sanity of their lives.

Realizing that she was expecting an answer, I hurriedly handed out a clichĂ© response: ‘Reading’.

‘Oh, that’s nice’, she replied. ‘So, what are you reading at the moment?’

Luckily, ‘Three Cups of Tea’ has been lying on my table for the past few weeks and so I had an available answer to offer. But as I did a quick memory scan over the past several months, I regretfully realized that I had added no more that two or three titles to the repertoire of books that I had read. This was certainly a far cry from the days when I voraciously devoured at least one book a week.

‘And besides reading?’ she asked. Her questions were getting difficult; it would have been easier if she had stuck to interrogating me on the social cost benefit analysis of the projects we currently had in hand, or the sustainability measures we planned to weave into the new projects that we would be embarking on.

‘Gardening’, I mumbled, and immediately regretted having said that.

‘Gardening? Really? So do you take care of the gardens in the campus?’

It was the Easter season and I was not particularly in the mood of lying. But what could I possibly tell her? That the last time I had actually stuck my hands in the soil were some fifteen years back while at KJC in Bangalore?

‘And theatre?’ she asked. ‘I though you once told me that you liked watching plays.’

It has been such a long time since I watched a play, I can’t even remember the last one I saw. I muttered a few unintelligible sounds and then pretended to clear my throat, while desperately praying that she would end this agonizing conversation.

‘It’s wonderful that you manage to keep up with all your hobbies’ she complimented me. ‘You know, I firmly believe that hobbies not only work wonders on your personality, but they also improve your work productivity.’

I suddenly began to feel uncomfortable. What was she hinting at? Had the fraying ends of my persona begun showing, or had my work output declined drastically? Someone had once told me that not only was she an authority on project management; she was also an expert in human resource development. So was she gently prescribing a few therapeutic measures to mend the defects she had diagnosed in me?

Maybe she was, maybe she wasn’t. In any case, the holiday season is here and it affords me the much needed time to return to my long lost hobbies.

The Refined Art of Living

Ian Doulton sdb

‘Living in style’ is not the prerogative of the affluent. It is your interest in your own ‘personal development’ that will accrue from all the effort you make to contribute to your own refinement and will make of you a valuable asset to the community, the province, the congregation and society at large.

One of the greatest experiences any of us can hope to have, especially as priests and religious, is the effect our influence has on those around us. To persuade someone that we have a good idea, to persuade someone to listen to us, to offer some effective advice, to be able to influence someone to follow a way of life, is not just an awesome experience but also an opportunity to affect another life. Influence is one of the greatest of life’s experiences. At whatever stage we are in life, be we novice, cleric, student, priest or brother we have all, in some respects, the opportunity to influence someone else. The key is to develop the skills to do this. It is one thing to do it casually, to do it haphazardly and quite another is to do it on purpose, by learning the skills. This is only possible if we have some clear ideas - but how do we acquire these clear ideas? How do we develop a truly exceptional life that will influence others?

I

In order to influence someone, strive to live a truly exceptional life. It is when you cultivate acquired tastes in the arts, literature, history, music, culture and other such disciplines that you learn to live uniquely and so influence the lives of others. You may employ all the strategies of personal development and reach the top of your field but if you neglect refining yourself, you miss the opportunity to influence people by the person you are, and by what makes you ‘tick.’ Cultivating a uniquely refined life is not to be mistaken for living the rich and famous lifestyle. They throw a lot of money around and try to buy refinement and culture but the rough edges of that superficial sophistication soon begin to show. Culture, refinement and finesse are not bought they are acquired with industry and perseverance. In short, do not imagine that it is out of place for a religious to be refined and even cultured. In fact, if there is one category of people that needs to cultivate a unique culture of refinement, it is us religious. How are we to influence people unless we are refined, competent and cultured? If we are not so, we would at best be mediocre and we would possibly be pitied by those we serve because of our lack of refinement and culture. Actually we are blessed with an education, access to so much information and such tremendous opportunities but what do we have to show for it? We need to tap into this vast storehouse of resources to cultivate a refinement that is unique to each of us. Even a person of modest traits, talents and average intellectual acumen can design for himself a life that is uniquely refined. Were our counterparts in the world placed in our situation they would eagerly exploit the resources we possibly leave lying around for want of motivation or direction. Therefore, let us not fool ourselves into believing that we are ‘poor religious’ and so are dispensed from this quest when there is so much that we have been ‘given.’

One of the earliest lessons that I learned in this regard was from a wise old professor who told our class: Don’t just learn how to earn, learn how to live! And that’s what refinement is all about - learning how to live. It is one of the great challenges of life: being happy with what you have while in pursuit of what you want. I have found it a practice well worth exercising with skill, given the opportunities that are afforded us. Now consider this, some of us are blessed with several talents and qualifications and everything else but there is nothing that urges to use what we have learned or acquired in the service of those we work with or work for, thus leaving us disgruntled, dissatisfied and disillusioned instead of feeling satisfied, fulfilled and happy. Others have all the opportunities going for them but they have trouble finding joy in what they do. It is not what you have and how much – it is what you do with what you have and how you do it. Many of us can do much with the little we have while others practice the laid-back attitude of letting life slide while simply hanging on for the ride. That is why our ministry sometimes suffers for a lack of vision or we fail to have an impact on our people due to the paucity and the poverty of our ideas. Dare then, to think big and work towards grasping the opportunities that come your way everyday and in the process, experience the joy that comes from the awareness of the greater person that you are becoming.

II

If you want to effect some change you need some inspiring ideas – and these ideas are not that far away. Here’s a good catch phrase: everything you need is within reach. The famous Bible verse is useful even to approach this subject: “Seek and you will find” – meaning by that, if you seek, you will find. We don’t find what we need we find what we search for. Needing is not the prerequisite for getting value. In order to be someone who desperately needs you must be a person who desperately seeks. Only if you seek, if you try, if you take the trouble to go out and ask, if you listen, there are ideas within your reach, and these ideas are life-changing. There is nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come; an idea for effective teaching, better organizational or managerial skills, an idea for your ministry, for a project or for your good health. All you need is the refinement of a single idea to impact your life. At this point, you probably have time to yourself, it’s the holidays and it’s time to go and gather treasure, resource and skills. Once done, it won’t take you long to notice a significant difference in the person you are becoming.

Quit complaining about the state of things in your community, your confreres, your education, your surroundings, your opportunities, they are all part of the fabric necessary to weave the tapestry of your life. Start making changes; process and evaluate whatever you imbibe during this time. You cannot imagine what can happen in the short span of a summer vacation. Do yourself a favour; develop yourself little by little, your style of perceiving, giving, sharing, enjoying and refining yourself. It’s not the amount that counts, but the refinement with which you choose to live your life. This quest will eventually lead you to influence those around you and it is reserved for those who are willing to study and practice the finer things of life. Mortimer Adler, the philosopher said: If we don’t go for the higher tastes we will settle for the lower ones. It is a worthy quest - to develop an appreciation for refined tastes; an appetite for the unique things of life. Study this art and reach for the best. All you are expected to do is to do the best you can in the time available to you.

About a decade ago we could have been excused for not finding enough opportunities to better our skills but today we have been blessed with several avenues and with the internet, that ‘worldwide’ gateway, we are presented with so much that is on offer. For us, in the city of Mumbai there are so many opportunities available and - as the saying goes - they are ‘only a click away.’ – With an eye to offering you something constructive this summer I thought I would offer some of my ‘web’ ramblings:

Music, Theatre and Drama
Staging plays is an integral part of Salesian pedagogy, our educational system and an effective means of conveying a message but sadly most of our skills have been handed down to us from a senior confrere to a junior…and with very little imagination or creativity. There is so much else available if we only look a little beyond our own surroundings. At www.ncpamumbai.com you will find the entire programme of performances available at one of the many theatres on that campus. Find out what suits your tastes and your timing and make a booking. Expose yourself to the arts and culture and see what it does to you. Some of the ideas you pick up at the performances or workshops could better the quality of the plays you stage and besides, you would meet interesting people who would probably be more than willing to lend you a hand.

To study drama and theatre techniques also visit: www.prithvitheatre.org and you will find their summer workshops and other training sessions that are organized at other venues in the city too. They also have a schedule of programmes throughout the year with titles that might suit you. Never think you are the last word on musicals or theatre or that what you have achieved so far is good enough. It’s a question of extending yourself and raising the bar for yourself and your institution’ but it’s all a question of taking that first step.

Teaching and Learning English and Library Facilities
The British Council (both in Mumbai and in Pune) offers courses in the teaching of English. Since most of our city schools have English as a medium of instruction and many of us teach English, it would be a good idea to acquire some new methods and skills. Visit www.britishcouncil.org and find out what’s on offer in a city near you. In this connection there are courses in personality development and public speaking or if you are interested in conducting language courses. You could visit www.indoamericansociety.org and see how they do it. Take part in one of their workshops or seminars and then try them out.

A Sense of, and a respect for, History and Culture
Wherever we find ourselves, it is always a sign of culture and refinement to have a sense of, and a respect for the history and the culture of the place. We would do well to find out details of the history of the place where our institution is located. For instance, in the city of Mumbai there are guided tours called ‘Fort Walks’ or ‘Heritage walks.’ If you care to take a walk that is guided by someone who knows the city and its history visit www.bombayheritagewalks.com. All you have to do is to book a Sunday morning ‘Fort Walk’ whenever it is available. There are certainly similar ventures in other cities where we work. It could be an opportunity to visit parts of the city that you may have never explored before.

Remember, it’s not the amount, it’s the imagination - it’s the style. Just be aware of how easy it is to put some refinement into your life. Make sure you don’t pass over these opportunities or you will miss out on something that could enhance your perception of the city in particular and life in general. It would certainly help you to live your life in a more refined manner. Again, I need to clarify that ‘living in style’ is not the prerogative of the affluent. It is your interest in your own ‘personal development’ that will accrue from all the effort you make to contribute to your own refinement and will make of you a valuable asset to the community, the province, the congregation and society at large.

III

One last point: a life of refinement is also life of balance. Make sure you give equal attention to all the dimensions of your life. The good life is an acquired discipline, a determined quest and a constant exercise. The good life comes from a sense of refinement and it is developed regardless of anything else. It provides you with a constant sense of joy in living which will fuel the fires of commitment towards all the disciplines that you embrace and all the fundamentals that make life fulfilling and worth living. What is wealth without character, industry without art, quantity without quality, enterprise without satisfaction, possessions without joy? Become a person of culture in order to be an asset to the community, the province, congregation and the world at large. Become a person of unusual substance who brings an added measure of genius to yourself, to the work you do, to the next generation and the generations that follow so that they will be the beneficiaries of the treasures you bequeath to them. That is ‘influence!’

The concluding story
In conclusion here is the story of a man who took a pile of rocks and in a couple of years turned it into a beautiful garden? A few years later a man toured the garden and he thought it was fabulous but he wanted to make sure that the gardener didn’t take all the credit so when he had an opportunity to meet the gardener after the tour, he shook his hand and said: “Mr. Gardener, you and the Good Lord have this beautiful garden here!” He said this to get his point across. The gardener said: “I understand your point, sir. If it wasn’t for the seed and the soil and the miracle of the seasons and the sunshine and the rain…,” he said, “certainly there wouldn’t be any garden here at all. But…” he added, “you should have seen this place a few years ago, when God had it all to himself!” I like the punch line, and the reason is that we do have a part to play to help work our own miracle. I hope that what I have said above has given you a little nudge to work some new miracles in your life - beginning this summer.